Key medical tests hit by Canadian reactor shutdown

Wed Dec 5, 2007 1:43pm EST
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By Scott Anderson

TORONTO (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of medical tests worldwide were in jeopardy on Wednesday after a key maker of radioisotopes for nuclear medicine said its Canadian reactor would be out of commission longer than expected.

The delays come after Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd said late on Tuesday that its National Research Universal reactor at Chalk River in eastern Ontario, which supplies more than two-thirds of the world's radioisotopes, would not be back to full production until early to mid-January.

The plant was expected to be back at normal production by mid-December but officials were forced to extend the shutdown after unplanned electrical work was needed.

Chalk River is a key producer of medical isotopes for Canadian healthcare company MDS Inc and its MDS Nordion division, which is responsible for about 50 percent of the world supply.

When injected into the body, the isotopes give off radiation that can be imaged with a camera to diagnose cancer, heart disease and other medical conditions.

The reactor shutdown threatens to delay a substantial amount of medical tests around the world, a Canadian expert on radiopharmacy said.

"MDS Nordion is one of the world's leading suppliers of this radio isotope, so it's not just a Canadian situation but a worldwide situation," Raymond Reilly, a radiopharmacist and professor of pharmacy at the University of Toronto, told Reuters.

"This is a critical radioisotope that is used to produce radiopharmaceuticals to diagnose many types of diseases and, therefore, the impact is quite widespread and important for patients with all kinds of health conditions."   Continued...